Brownlie Embraces Bullpen

Of the four first-round picks the Cubs had in the 2002 draft, one hasn't won a game since August of that year, one hasn't pitched in a live game since early '04, one was released by the organization altogether, and one is adjusting to a fairly new role in the bullpen while rediscovering the velocity that was absent for most of his 2004 season and parts of '05.

Right-hander Bobby Brownlie, drafted first in that rare influx of first-round picks four seasons ago, had been struggling through his first season at Triple-A last year when he was placed on the disabled list with a minor elbow injury in late May.

When he returned roughly three weeks later, Brownlie was used exclusively from the bullpen for the first time in his career, at which point he started to re-gain some zip on his fastball, pitching in the low to mid 90s with some consistency.

The bullpen stint lasted roughly two months, after which Brownlie would close out the season with six consecutive starts in the rotation.

This spring, Brownlie was invited to big league camp as a non-roster player, but quickly found himself back in minor league camp. His last two appearances with the Triple-A squad in Spring Training was as a starter, but after talking at length with Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild, a move back to the bullpen for at least the start of 2006 was inevitable.

"Having spoken with Larry, he felt the bullpen might be my best shot at getting to the big leagues," said Brownlie, 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA and a .133 average against in 13 relief appearances at Iowa last season.

"I'd been trying in my own little subtle ways to find out what they were going to do with me. However they decide to use me is fine with me. I pitch really well in the bullpen and am more than open to it."

In his first two relief appearances this season, Brownlie has allowed five runs and eight hits in 2 1/3 innings. His primary concern this season will be remaining true to himself, and his approach.

Brownlie acknowledged that early on last season, he had strayed from the bulldog mentality that coaches and scouts had raved about for years. He often shied away from hitters and tried to focus on the inside and outside corners of the plate instead of pounding the strike zone. That, he said, led to the increase in walks and earned runs in his first two months of the season.

Once the season ended, Brownlie went back to his former trainer from high school in Edison, N.J., Todd Sak. An ex-pitcher at Brownlie's prep alma mater, Sak went on to become an expert in the field of physical fitness. Over the course of the winter, he worked with Brownlie on average of three and four days each week with various weight-lifting exercises.

"We did lots of squats and lunges that will help when I'm pitching," Brownlie said, "That way, when you pitch in a game you won't be nearly as fatigued as you would have otherwise."

Although his stay in big league camp last month didn't last long, Brownlie was able to use the experience of being around major league pitchers as an advantage.

Going into Spring Training, he knew he would likely be one of the first players returned to minor league camp because of his status as a non-roster invitee, but it didn't spoil the parade.

"I was just grateful that I was able to get the opportunity to experience all of the fun and the atmosphere," said Brownlie, who appeared in four games with the big league club. "It was a good opportunity to see what it takes to pitch at that level. It was great to see what those guys do, so that maybe I can learn how to approach the game in a more professional manner."

Unfortunately toward the end of camp, Brownlie came down with minor flu-like symptoms and had to stay off his feet for several days.

"There was a little bug going around," he said. "Nothing major. A couple of guys came down with something in big league camp and it trickled its way down the street to Fitch Park. My body felt achy here and there, but you get through it and look forward to the new season."

And this new season will be unlike any others the 25-year-old and former Big East Conference standout at Rutgers has ever experienced, and all because of two things -- what Sinatra would call "Love and Marriage."

On January 7, Brownlie wed his longtime girlfriend, Kimberly. The Mrs. will accompany her husband around the minor league venues increasingly more this season, as opposed to the couple's in-season long-distance relationship last year.

"We're still in that newly wed phase," Brownlie said. "It's nice to know you have the support of your wife when you come home from the park every day. We definitely enjoy being around each other more. This year, she was with me all throughout Spring Training and will be with me most of this year at Iowa."

Sorry, ladies, but as the song goes, "You can't have one without the other."

E-mail Steve Holley:

Northsiders Report Top Stories